Jakarta governor fights blasphemy charges

Jakarta governor fights blasphemy charges
Jakarta's governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama popularly known as 'Ahok'
PHOTO: Reuters

Jakarta - Jakarta's Christian governor returned to court Tuesday to fight allegations of insulting the Koran that could see him jailed under tough blasphemy laws in the world's largest Muslim-majority country.

The high-profile case against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama - the first Christian to govern the capital in more than 50 years - has captivated attention in Indonesia, and fanned concerns about hardliners pushing their agenda in the nation of 255 million.

Purnama, better known by his nickname Ahok, ignited a firestorm of criticism when he quoted a verse from the Islamic holy text in September.

The governor apologised but his remarks angered Muslims - both moderate and conservative - who marched against him in the largest rallies seen in Indonesia in years.

In a teary, nationally televised defence last week, Purnama denied ever intending to offend his Muslim countrymen and asked the judges to dismiss the case.

Purnama's lawyers deny the charges, claiming proceedings are being rushed and the judges subject to public pressure.

Tens of thousands of Muslim hardliners in protest march against Jakarta governor for alleged blasphemy

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    Ahok - the first Christian to go­­vern Jakarta in more than 50 years

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    - will defend allegations that he insulted the Quran and fight calls for his imprisonment under Indo­nesia's tough blasphemy laws.

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    Ahok, known for his outspoken style, outraged Muslims when he controversially quoted a passage from the Islamic holy text while campaigning in elections for the Jakarta governorship.

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    The Jakarta police are set to deploy more than 2,000 personnel to secure the first hearing in the trial of non-active Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama over blasphemy allegations at the North Jakarta District Court

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    Thousands of Muslims worshipers have been gathering at the National Monument (Monas) square in Central Jakarta since Friday morning to join a mass prayer aimed at intensifying pressure on the police to detain Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama in a blasphemy case.

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    Indonesian police offered prayers for peace and called for unity ahead of a massive protest by Muslim hardliners against Jakarta's governor that authorities fear could turn violent.

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    Although the event, initiated by the National Movement to Safeguard the Indonesian Ulema Council’s Fatwa (GNPF-MUI), is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m., some participants said they had arrived as early as 5.30 a.m.

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    Most of them were wearing white.

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    he arriving worshipers first did the wudhu cleansing ritual with water provided at the location, before sitting down on their prayer mats, facing a large stage where the sermon will be given.

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    Hundreds of police personnel, wearing white Muslim caps, are on standby at the event.

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    This event is a follow-up to a large-scale anti-Ahok rally on Nov. 4, when protesters, mostly from Muslim groups, swarmed Jakarta streets to demand Ahok's prosecution.

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    a Christian and the first ethnic Chinese in the job, over claims that he insulted the Quran.

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    As many as 200,000 demonstrators are expected to gather at Monas during the gathering, which has been authorized to run until 1 p.m.

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    Indonesian police quelled a mass protest by tens of thousands of hardline Muslims , firing tear gas and water cannon into crowds

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    Last month, the National Police named Ahok, a Christian of Chinese descent, a suspect of blasphemy over comments on a Quranic verse the governor had made during a visit to Thousand Islands regency in late September.

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    At one stage during the march, the crowd chanted, "Arrest Ahok now... Kill Ahok now," reported The Straits Times.

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    Police formed human barricades outside key buildings such as ministries, the National Monument and the presidential palace. Armoured vehicles were also on guard to prepare for any violence.

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    A police spokesman said one person died and 12 were hurt.

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    Police said the number of demonstrators in central Jakarta swelled to about 150,000 in the hours after Friday prayers as they congregated around the palace of President Joko Widodo.

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    The crowd grew restive - some threw rocks at the police, two vehicles were torched and a fire broke out near the city's National Monument.

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    Many protesters were clad in robes and Muslim caps as they called for the resignation of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahja Purnama.

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    Tens of thousands of Muslim hardliners march to the presidential palace to protest against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for alleged blasphemy.

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    Many of the demonstrators, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), had performed their Friday (Nov 4) prayers at the Istiqlal mosque, as well as on the streets and pavements outside.

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    Droves of protesters, including women in headscarves, arrived in buses, motorcycles and even on foot from as far as Bali and Kalimantan, choking major roads in the capital city.

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    Men in white Islamic robes chanted "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greater) as they walked towards the mosque, carrying Indonesian flags and waving posters with the words "Arrest or Expel Ahok", referring to the Jakarta governor.

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    Indonesian muslim students carry a mock coffin that reads: "Arrest Ahok".

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    Footage from local TV stations showed demonstrators standing on trucks and shouting through loudspeakers, calling for a peaceful rally.

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    Organisers said 200,000 people, including many from outside Jakarta, will participate in the rally. They will march to the state palace to press for the authorities to charge Mr Basuki, better known as Ahok, for allegedly insulting Islam.

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    Despite the major rally, the governor who is seeking re-election, remains unfazed, saying he will continue to campaign on Friday.

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    Truckloads of soldiers and police took the streets of Jakarta, securing shopping malls and business areas,

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    as residents in the Indonesian capital braced for a large-scale protest planned by hardline Muslim groups.

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    Thousands of protesters, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), are expected to demand the resignation of the Jakarta governor,

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    Some Muslim groups have accused Purnama of blasphemy after he said his opponents had deceived voters by attacking him using a verse from the Quran.

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    The mood is tense in Jakarta, a sprawling city of around 10 million, with companies asking employees to work from home,

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    access to the main business district restricted and several foreign embassies urging their citizens to stay safe.

But prosecutors Tuesday argued the charges were in line with the law. They claim the governor insulted Muslims by claiming his political opponents were using the Koran to sway voters against him.

"Based on our analysis and judicial description, the entire objection filed by the accused and his lawyers is not based (on) the law and have to be rejected," prosecutor Ali Mukartono said.

Outside the courthouse, hundreds of hardline Islamists chanted "God is Great" and waved banners demanding Purnama be jailed.

"We want the judges to decide to arrest Ahok because he is already a suspect and the police and attorney general are not bold enough to arrest him," Thirman Elon, an anti-Purnama protester said.

Purnama was named a suspect in November, but has not been formally arrested and is not in custody. He remains a candidate for re-election in February and is still campaigning.

Hundreds of his supporters also descended on the court Tuesday.

"Ahok is not guilty. What he did was not blasphemy. Ahok has apologised many times and as Muslims we should forgive him," said Misirah, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Almost all blasphemy cases in Indonesia have resulted in convictions and if found guilty, Purnama faces a maximum five-year prison sentence.

The trial has been adjourned until December 27.

The laws have seen Muslims from sects deemed deviant put behind bars, and even atheists have been handed jail sentences for falling foul of the provisions.

Rights groups claim the laws are used to persecute minorities and fear the highly public case against Purnama is eroding Indonesia's reputation for tolerance and diversity.

Long the favourite to win re-election in February, Purnama has watched his lead slip as the case against him has dragged on.

He is running against two Muslim candidates for the governorship of Indonesia's largest city.

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